Maine Yankee Pulls Out of Interstate Compact

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(Host) A decade ago, the Vermont Legislature agreed to join with Maine and ship the state’s low-level nuclear waste to Texas. But now that Maine’s only nuclear power plant is closed, Maine is trying to pull out of the three-state compact. Vermont still plans to ship its waste to Texas even though that state has yet to site the nuclear waste dump.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Host) Much of the state’s low-level nuclear trash comes from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. The waste is now shipped to a repository in Barnwell, South Carolina, but that location will be shut down in a few years. With the South Carolina facility scheduled to close, Vermont and Maine planned to send their low-level waste to Texas.

But Maine officials are now saying they won’t need the Texas site because their only nuclear power plant has shut down for good. Maine officials are working on legislation that would pull Maine out of the low level waste compact.

Larry Becker is Vermont’s state geologist who has worked extensively on the low-level nuclear waste issue. He says Maine’s plans shouldn’t affect Vermont:

(Becker) "The way the compact is structured, it really doesn’t change much. Vermont would still be responsible for making a payment to Texas, which would be the same as we would if Maine was in the compact."

(Dillon) Becker says Maine simply isn’t producing as much waste any more, and apparently no longer needs the Texas site. He says Vermont’s financial obligations under the compact would not go up if Maine backs out:

(Becker) "That’s the difference: Maine Yankee is decommissioning early while Vermont is still open till 2012. And we still have the same responsibilities and Texas still has same responsibility to be a host state and find a site for a low-level waste facility."

(Dillon) Under the compact, Maine and Vermont agreed to pay $25 million each to Texas toward development of a low-level waste facility. The repository would store material from Maine Yankee, Vermont Yankee, and Texas nuclear power plants.

The low-level waste plan was controversial in Texas, where opponents argued that the compact would force a low-income Hispanic community to accept the nuclear trash. A Texas administrative judge eventually rejected the first plan to site the facility near Sierra Blanca. The Texas Legislature has also failed to come up with an alternative site.

But Vermont Yankee spokesman Brian Cosgrove says he’s confident a site will be found in Andrews County, Texas by the time the Barnwell, South Carolina facility closes in five or six years:

(Cosgrove) "So that’s the other reason Texas is so important to us, is that it looks as though Texas will be coming online at about the time Barnwell is phasing out."

(Dillon) Under the compact, Vermont and Maine were required to make an initial payment of $12.5 million to Texas in 1998. The governors of Maine, Texas and Vermont agreed at the time to delay that payment until Texas comes up with firm plans for a site.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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